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The Ten Mythologies
of Israel
Ilan Pappé
Article special to CJPME

Released by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

November 2012

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

The Ten Mythologies of Israel
Ilan Pappé

The Ten Mythologies of Israel
1 Myth 1: Palestine was a land without people, waiting for the people without
a land ........................................................................................................................................ 2
2 Myth 2: Palestinians resorted to acts of terror against Jewish settlers prior
to the creation of Israel........................................................................................................ 2
3

Myth 3: Myths around the creation of Israel........................................................... 2

4

Myth 4: Israel was a benign democratic state prior to 1967 .............................. 4

5

Myth 5: The Palestinian struggle has no aim other than terror ........................ 4

6 Myth 6: Israel was forced to occupy the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, ad
must hold these territories until others are ready for peace .................................... 4
7 Myth 7: Isreal ocupied the West Bank and Gaza with benevolent intentions,
but was forced to respond to Palestinian violence ..................................................... 5
8 Myth 8: The Oslo Accords reflected a desire on both sides to reach a
solution .................................................................................................................................... 6
9 Myth 9: The Second Intifada was a mass terror attack orchestrated by
Arafat ........................................................................................................................................ 7
10

Myth 10: A solution in Israel and Palestine is just around the corner ........ 7

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

Page 1

The Ten Mythologies of Israel

CJPME Introduction to Article
In May, 2012, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) was proud
to host Israeli author and historian Ilan Pappé for a speaking tour in six cities across
Canada. His talk – The False Paradigm of Peace: Revisiting the Palestine Question –
challenged the conventional Western thinking about the Palestinians, and how to
resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
At several points through his tour, Dr. Pappé was asked to enumerate the most
important of the “false paradigms” to which he referred during his tour. Although an
exhaustive enumeration was more than could be fit into a 45-minute lecture, Dr.
Pappé and CJPME promised to follow up with Canadian audiences. What follows is
Dr. Pappé’s description of the ten most prevalent and pernicious of the “false
paradigms.” The effort and summary below from Dr. Pappé are a special treat to
Canadian audiences, and CJPME invites you to enjoy Dr. Pappé’s musings on the topic.

The Ten Mythologies of Israel
Ilan Pappé
Any attempt to solve a conflict has to touch upon the very core of this conflict and
the core more often than not lies in its history. A distorted or manipulated history
can explain quite well a failure to end a conflict whereas a truthful and
comprehensive look at the past can facilitate a lasting peace and solution. A
distorted history can in fact do more harm, as the particular case study of Israel and
Palestine shows: it can protect oppression, colonization and occupation.
The wide acceptance in the world of the Zionist narrative is based on a cluster of
mythologies that, in the end, cast doubt on the Palestinian moral right, ethical
behavior and chances for any just peace in the future. The reason for this is that
these mythologies are accepted by the mainstream media in the West, and by the
political elites there as truth. Once accepted as a truth, these mythologies become a
justification, not so much for the Israeli actions, but for the West’s inclination to
interfere.
Listed below are these ten common myths that provided an immunity shield for
impunity and inhumanity in the land of Palestine.

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

Page 2

The Ten Mythologies of Israel

1 Myth 1: Palestine was a land without people, waiting for
the people without a land
The first is that Palestine was a land without people waiting for the people without
land. The first part was successfully proved to be false by a number of excellent
historians who showed that before the arrival of the early Zionists, Palestine had a
thriving society, mostly rural, but with a very vibrant urban center. It was a society
like all the other Arab societies around it, held under Ottoman rule and part of the
empire, but nonetheless one which witnessed the emergence of a nascent national
movement. The movement would probably have turned Palestine into a nationstate, like Iraq or Syria, had Zionism not arrived on its shores.
The second part of this mythology is also doubtful, but less significant. Several
scholars, among them Israelis, doubted the genetic connection between the Zionist
settlers and the Jews who lived the Roman time in Palestine or were exiled at the
time. This is really less important, as many national movements create artificially
their story of birth and plant it in the distant past. The important issue, however, is
what you do in the name of this narrative. Do you justify colonization, expulsion and
killing in the name of that story, or do you seek peace and reconciliation on its basis?
It does not matter whether the narrative is true or not. What matters is that it is vile
if, in its name, you colonize, dispossess and in some cases even commit acts of
genocide against indigenous and native people.

2 Myth 2: Palestinians resorted to acts of terror against
Jewish settlers prior to the creation of Israel
The second foundational mythology was that the Palestinians from early on resorted
to an anti-Semitic campaign of terror when the first settlers arrived, and until the
creation of the state of Israel. As the diaries of the early Zionists show, they were
well received by the Palestinians who offered them abode and taught them in many
cases how to cultivate the land. It was only when it became clear that these settlers
did not come to live next to or with the native population, but instead of it, that the
Palestinian resistance began. And when that resistance started it was not different
from any other anti-colonialist struggle.

3 Myth 3: Myths around the creation of Israel
The third myth is set of Israeli fables about the 1948 war. There were four
foundational mythologies connected to this year.

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

Page 3

The Ten Mythologies of Israel

3.1 The Palestinians are to be blamed for what happened to them
because they rejected the UN Partition Plan of 1947
The first was that the Palestinians are to be blamed for what occurred to them since
they rejected the UN partition plan of November 1947. This allegation ignores the
colonialist nature of the Zionist movement. It would have been unlikely that the
Algerians, for instance, would have accepted the partition of Algeria with the French
settlers – and such a refusal would not be deemed unreasonable or irrational. What
is morally clear is that such an objection, in the case of any other Arab country,
should not have justified the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians as a ‘punishment’
for rejecting a UN peace plan that was devised without any consultation with them.
3.2 The Palestinians left their home voluntarily or as a result of a call by
their leaders
Similarly absurd is the myth that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily or as a
result of a call by their leaders and those of the neighboring Arab states, supposedly
to make way for the invading Arab armies that would come to liberate Palestine.
There was no such call – this myth was invented by the Israeli foreign minister in the
early 1950s. Later on Israeli historians changed the mythology and claimed that the
Palestinians left, or fled, because of the war. But the truth of the matter is that
already half of those who became refugees in 1948 were expelled before the war
commenced, on May 15, 1948.
3.3 Israel was a David fighting an Arab Goliath
The research proved that the Palestinians had no military power whatsoever. On the
second point, the Arab states sent only a relatively small contingent of troops to
Palestine, and they were smaller in size, and far less equipped or trained than the
Jewish forces. Moreover, and highly significant, is the fact that these troops were
sent into Palestine after May 15, 1948 when Israel had already been declared as a
state, as a response to an ethnic cleansing operation that the Zionist forces had
begun in February 1948.
3.4 After its war of creation, Israel extended its hand for peace to its
Palestinian and Arab neighbors
As for the myth of the extended hand of peace, the documents show clearly an
intransigent Israeli leadership that refused to open up negotiations over the future of
post-Mandatory Palestine, or consider the return of the people who had been
expelled or fled. While Arab governments and Palestinian leaders were willing to

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

Page 4

The Ten Mythologies of Israel

participate in a new and more reasonable UN peace initiative in 1948, the Israelis
assassinated the UN peace mediator, Count Bernadotte, and rejected the suggestion
by the Palestine Conciliation Commission (PCC), a UN body, to reopen negotiations.
This intransigent view would continue and as Avi Shlaim has shown in The Iron Wall
that, contrary to the myth that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss
peace, it was Israel that constantly rejected the peace offers that were on the table.

4 Myth 4: Israel was a benign democratic state prior to
1967
The fourth mythology is that Israel was a benign democratic state, seeing peace with
its neighbors, and offering equality to all its citizens before the June 1967 war. This is
a myth propagated alas by some notable Palestinian and pro-Palestinian scholars –
but it has no historical foundation in facts. One fifth of the Israeli citizenship was
subjected to a ruthless military rule based on draconian British mandatory
emergency regulations that denied them any basic human and civil rights. Within
this period more than fifty Palestinian citizens were killed by the Israeli security
forces. At the same time, Israel pursued aggressive policies towards its Arab
neighbors, attacking them for allowing refugees to try and return, or at least retrieve
their lost property and husbandry. In collusion with Britain and France, Israel also
tried to topple Gamal Abdul Nasser’s legitimate regime in Egypt.

5

Myth 5: The Palestinian struggle has no aim other than
terror

The fifth myth is that the Palestinian struggle is that of terrorism and nothing more.
The struggle led by the PLO was a liberation struggle against a colonialist project.
Somehow the world finds it difficult to grant legitimacy to anti-colonialist struggle
when most of the oppressed are Muslims and the oppressor is Jewish.

6 Myth 6: Israel was forced to occupy the West Bank and
Gaza in 1967, ad must hold these territories until others
are ready for peace
The sixth myth is that the 1967 war forced Israel to occupy the West Bank and the
Gaza strip and keep them in custody until the Arab world, or the Palestinians, are
willing to make peace with the Jewish State. The Israeli political and military elite
regarded the 1948 war as a missed opportunity: a historical moment in which Israeli

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

Page 5

The Ten Mythologies of Israel

could have occupied the whole of historical Palestine (from the river Jordan to the
Mediterranean Sea). The only reason they did not do it was because of a tacit
agreement with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: in return for Jordan’s limited
participation in the general Arab war effort, Jordan would be allowed to annex the
West Bank. Following 1948, the Israeli elite were looking for an opportunity and
planned carefully from the mid-1960s how to implement a plan to have it all.
There were several historical junctures in which the Israelis nearly did it – but held
back at the last moment. The most famous instances were in 1958 and 1960. In
1958, the leader of the state and its first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, aborted
plans at the last moment due to fears of international reaction. In 1960, Ben-Gurion
held back because of his demographic fears –thinking that Israel cannot incorporate
such a large number of Palestinians. The best opportunity came in 1967, regardless
of the Israeli mythology of not wishing to go to war against Jordan, but being forced
to react to Jordanian aggression. There was no need for Israel to remain in the West
Bank, if this were just another round of tension between the two states.
Incorporating the West Bank and the Gaza Strip within Israel was an Israeli plan since
1948 that was implemented in 1967.

7 Myth 7: Isreal ocupied the West Bank and Gaza with
benevolent intentions, but was forced to respond to
Palestinian violence
The seventh myth was that Israel intended to conduct a benevolent occupation but
was forced to take a tougher attitude because of Palestinian violence. Israel
regarded from the very beginning any wish to end the occupation – whether
expressed peacefully or through a struggle – as terrorism. From the beginning, it
reacted brutally by collectively punishing the population for any demonstration of
resistance.
The Palestinians were offered two options: 1) to accept life in an Israeli open prison,
enjoy limited autonomy, and the right to work as underpaid labor in Israel, bereft of
any workers’ rights, or 2) resist, even mildly, and risk living in a maximum security
prison subjected to instruments of collective punishment, including house
demolitions, arrests without trial, expulsions, and in severe cases, assassinations and
murder.
The major reality change that Palestinians had to accept - or risk enduring
punishment – was that Israeli would unilaterally decide which part of the West Bank

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

Page 6

The Ten Mythologies of Israel

and the Gaza Strip will be taken from them forever and annexed to Israel. At this
point in time, more than half of the West Bank has been annexed in one way or
another, while the Gaza strip has been left alone eventually as an area over which
Israel wishes to exercise a direct rule.
Part of this myth related to assertions about the Palestinian Liberation Organization
(PLO) – assertions promoted by liberal Zionists both in the USA and Israel, and shared
with the rest of the political forces in Israel about the PLO’s struggle. The allegation
was that the PLO – inside and outside of Palestine – was conducting a war of terror
for the sake of terror. Unfortunately, this demonization is still very prevalent in the
West and has been accentuated after 2001 by the attempt to equate Islam, terrorism
and Palestine. The PLO was, in fact, recognized as the sole and legitimate
representative of the Palestinian people by more states than have recognized Israel.
It is noteworthy that this demonization continued even after the Oslo Accords of
1993, through which Israel supposedly recognized the PLO as a legitimate partner.
Even the Palestine Authority is still depicted by Israel as an outfit that supports
terror. The worst kind of demonization, which convinced the Western world to resort
to political boycott, was directed at the Hamas. While international civil society
continues to question such a characterization, mainstream media and politicians still
fall foul to this slander.

8 Myth 8: The Oslo Accords reflected a desire on both
sides to reach a solution
The eighth myth is that the Oslo Accords were a peace process that was born out the
wish of both sides to reach a solution. The idea of partitioning Palestine already
back in the 1930s was a Zionist concept that the Palestinians refused to cave in to
until the late 1980s. In the meantime, the share of the land the Israelis were willing
to offer the Palestinians went down from half of the land to 15 percent of it. The
willingness to call this 15 percent a state could not hide the fact that the Oslo
process, devised solely by Israelis, offered only a fragmented Bantustan for the
Palestinians, and no “right of return” or other solution for the millions of Palestinian
refugees.
Oslo was the result of a matrix of events that had disempowered the PLO and its
leader, Yasser Arafat, to such an extent that against the advice of his best friends, he
went into this process hoping to gain independence in at least part of Palestine. The
end result was an almost total destruction of Palestine and the Palestinians.

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

Page 7

The Ten Mythologies of Israel

9 Myth 9: The Second Intifada was a mass terror attack
orchestrated by Arafat
The ninth myth is that the Second Intifada was a mega terrorist attack sponsored
and, in a way, planned by Arafat. The truth is, it was a mass demonstration of
dissatisfaction with the betrayal of Oslo, compounded by the provocative action of
Ariel Sharon and his likes around the holy places for Islam in Palestine. This nonviolent protest was crushed by brutal force by Israel, which led to a more desperate
Palestinian response: the expanded use of suicide bombs as a last resort against
Israel’s overwhelming military power. There is telling evidence by Israeli newspaper
correspondents how their reporting on the early stages of the Intifada – as a
nonviolent movement that was crushed violently – was shelved by the editors so as
to fit the narrative of the government.
That narrative of the Palestinians aborting the peace process by force, and thus
“reaffirming” what Israel has always said about them – i.e. that they do not miss an
opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace and that ‘there is no one to talk to on
the Palestinian side’ – is particularly cynical. The Israeli government and army had
tried by force to impose its own version of Oslo – one which was meant to
perpetuate the occupation forever but with Palestinian consent – and even a feeble
Arafat could not accept it. He and so many other leaders who could have led the
Palestinians to reconciliation were targeted by the Israelis; and most of them,
perhaps even Arafat as well, were assassinated.

10 Myth 10: A solution in Israel and Palestine is just around
the corner
The last and tenth myth is that there is a solution in Israel and Palestine just around
the corner: the “two state solution” will fall into place, and the conflict will be nearly
over. This corner is definitely not upon this earth, maybe somewhere in the universe.
The reality on the ground, that of a massive colonization and direct annexation of
vast part of the West Bank to Israel, would render any resulting state a sad
Bantustan. If such a state is ever agreed to, it would be a Bantustan without any
proper sovereignty. Even worse, Palestine would be defined as only 20 percent of
what it actually is, and the Palestinians would be defined only as those who live in the
West Bank. (Significantly, the Gaza strip seems to have been excluded from
discussions of a future state, and many parts of Jerusalem are also not included in the
envisaged state).

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME

Page 8

The Ten Mythologies of Israel

The “two state solution,” as mentioned above, is an Israeli invention that was meant
to allow it to square a circle: to include the West Bank within Israel’s control without
incorporating the population that lives there. Thus, it was suggested that part of the
West Bank would be autonomous and maybe even a “state” in return for the
Palestinians giving up all their hopes: hopes for the return of refugees, for equal
rights for the Palestinians in Israel, for the fate of Jerusalem, and for a normal life as
human beings in their homeland.
Any criticism to this mythology is branded as anti-Semitism. But in fact, this policy
and mythology is the main reason why anti-Semitism is still exists. Israel insists that
what it does, it does in the name of Judaism. Hence it creates an association
between the Zionist colonization and Jewish religion in the minds of twisted people.
This association should be rejected in the name of Judaism.
Indeed, for the sake of universal values, the right of everyone who lives in Palestine
(or was expelled) should be respected. The right for all peoples in Israel and
Palestine to live as equals should top the agenda of all efforts for peace and
reconciliation in the region.

Copyright © 2012, Ilan Pappé
Published by permission by CJPME


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